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(Brushfire Records 8815 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 5/9/2007)
The commercial music scene tends concentrate its efforts on the already-popular, putting out music designed to sound like the current hits, with the results usually very predictable. The antidote to that is some of the interesting and challenging music that mixes cultures and other influences, music that we have been known to play on this radio program. But as stimulating as that can be, it's often nice to sit back and listen to some easy-going, relatively unchallenging music that is nevertheless tasteful and avoids the cliches of pop music.
This week, we have such a recording. It's the latest by the California band ALO, and their CD is called Roses & Clover.
ALO, formerly known as the Animal Liberation Orchestra and the Free Range Horns, was formed by some longtime friends who were attending the University of California at Santa Barbara. Originally a nine-piece group, which included the college's band director playing drums, they attracted a good deal of attention in the Santa Barbara area. After their graduation, the three founding members -- keyboard man Zach Gill, who writes a majority of the material, bassist Steve Adams and guitarist Dan Lebowtiz -- headed north to the San Francisco area, where the three had grown up, and relaunched the band as a quartet. They recruited drummer Dave Brogan, rounding out their current personnel. In the course of their touring, they caught the attention of popular singer-songwriter Jack Johnson who signed them to his own record label, and has been taking them along on his tours.
As currently constituted, ALO is part jam band, part singer-songwriter group, with hints of Caribbean influence as well as some old fashioned soul and funk, served up in a tasteful blend with the kind of warm, familiar sound that makes you think you have been listening to this band for years. Just a year ago, they released Fly Between Walls, which provided an introduction to many for the band. Roses & Clover continues a similar sound, though there is a bit less jam band flavor to this recording, and a greater tendency toward fairly succinct songs. The lyrical subjects are also quite familiar, with most of the songs being about love and different variations -- from celebrating one's significant other to suffering unrequited love. The instrumentation helps to give the CD a generally laid-back feel, with acoustic guitar heard as much as electric guitar.
On Roses & Clover, the band is supplemented by some horns in places, reverting to their original configuration. The group is listed as being their own producers, though in the control room they are joined by Robert Carranza, who has worked with such artists as Beck, Los Lobos and Ozomatli. They went back to Santa Barbara to record, setting up in an old barn, presumably to enhance the homey atmosphere of the recording.
The CD gets under way with one of its feel-good songs, Maria, a straight-out celebratory love song. <<>>
Taking a rather different mood lyrically is Empty Vessel (A Pledge of No Allegiance), a love song of the unrequited variety. The group continues with their easy-going soul-influenced beat. <<>>
Taking a cue from early reggae recordings is the song Try, which expresses a lyrical topic that has been the subject of many songs before. But the idea of putting a relationship back together is dealt with by the band in an appealing way. <<>>
A bit more toward the acoustic rock is the track Monday, another easy-going song that combines appealing influences in a way that is both familiar and distinctive. <<>>
One of the more interesting sets of lyrics come on Plastic Bubble, a essentially about enjoying the shutting off from the outside world. <<>>
The title song, Roses and Clover is one of the highlights of this generally upbeat album. The group settles into an easy-going soul-influenced groove. <<>>
Taking a decidedly retro sound is Lady Loop which conjures 1970s funk and soul. The lyrics a lot less straightforward than elsewhere on the album. <<>>
ALO seems like a band likely to do on-stage jams, given the direction of their music. But there is only one long, jam-influenced track on Roses & Clover. Water Song can take on an atmospheric sound, while the tune itself unfolds slowly and gently. The lyrics use the "water" of the title as a metaphor. <<>>
Roses & Clover the new CD by the band ALO, formerly the Animal Liberation Orchestra, is a fine recording of music that is neither particularly challenging, innovative, nor lyrically profound. But sometimes that's just what one may want -- easy-going music, that's nevertheless intelligent, tasteful and which manages to avoid cliches, despite a sound that gives the band a quality that can make you think that you've grown up with their music. The musicianship is first rate, the songs are well-crafted, and the band's vocals have a personable quality. So this is one band that can give the term "feel good music" a good name.
Our sonic grade is close to an "A." There is a kind of close-in intimate quality to the recording that gives an immediacy and informality to the album further enhances its appeal. My only qualms were on a couple of tracks where they try for a retro sound, and that extends to the use of old equipment with its noise and distortion. The dynamic range, the difference between soft and loud passages, is a bit better average for contemporary rock album.
About the only thing I would wish for on ALO's new CD would be for a couple more jams. But otherwise, Roses & Clover is thoroughly fine album of easy-going positive music.
(c) Copyright 2007 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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